Director discusses his competition feature A Decent Woman, which received its world premiere in Sarajevo.

Austrian writer-director Lukas Valenta Rinner came to prominence when his first film Parabellum was selected for Rotterdam’s Tiger competition in 2015.

Having studied film at Buenos Aires’ Universidad del Cine, both his first feature and A Decent Woman, which world premiered in the competition of the Sarajevo Film Festival on Saturday (Aug 13), were shot in Argentina and tackle subjects connected to the country’s society.

“My films are an exploration of spaces and phenomena in society and I sort of go in with the camera to try to capture these ideologies and contradictions,” says Rinner.

A Decent Woman follows Belen, a 32-year-old housemaid who gets a job in an upper class family’s house in a gated residential complex. After she meets a group of nudists who live on the other side of the fence, her life begins to change.

A Decent Woman

A Decent Woman

How did you get this film off the ground?

This process was absolutely crazy for me because exactly one year ago I was contacted by the Jeonju Film Festival, where Parabellum won the Jury Prize, and they asked me if I had an idea for a film, because they co-produce three films a year. I sent them a one-page summary about the nudist camp, and they said they would finance it.

Then we knew that a work in progress version of the film had to be shown at Jeonju six months later. So we started pre-production without even a treatment.

How did production go?

We started writing the script and simultaneously working on the set. We spent two months of screenwriting, and two days before the start of principal photography, we had the finished screenplay. Then we were re-writing during the shooting, and on the first day of the shoot, we started editing.

It was an experimental process. I would go to the set with the cinematographer and try to define a shot that we thought would work in editing. We never had any alternative shots for any scenes. This was extremely tiring for the rest of the crew, of course. Then we started working with Iride Mockert on set, and sort of assembled the actors around her. Every day it was about finding the film again, and doing screenplay modifications, all in parallel. Then on weekends I would go to the editing room to see how editing was going, and schedule a re-shoot if needed. It was like an organism we created in six months to do this film.

What is particularly Argentinian about the theme of your film?

It’s about current issues in Argentinian society - a separation of the upper class. The upper class is moving into these gated communities, high-security facilities with schools and shopping centres. They are set in the province of Buenos Aires, very poor outskirts of the city, so these facilities are really like fortresses surrounded with poverty.

The nudist club that you shot at is an actual place. Are these nudists also part of the upper class?

I think it’s more organic. It’s an actual place that we shot at, where basically people from the lower middle class go. We tried to make it a mix of people from lower class and people from the middle class. The main characters are played by actors, and most of the side characters are real people from the nudist club.

Is this separation of “decent” people and nudists also a representation of ideological differences?

Yes. I think the film talks a lot about ideology. It is a representation of what you could call “capitalist ideology”, and next to it is an alternative ideology. So the film is about this clash of two ideologies in a wider sense. The nudist club also in a way belongs to the capitalist ideology, but we wanted to establish this contradiction. We didn’t want to do it completely black-and-white.

Of course, the nudist club in itself is also alienated. It’s supposed to be very liberal and outgoing, but inside you also find these inherent rules and limitations.

The main character Belen, played by Iride Mockert, does not display much emotion.

I don’t really work through dialogues that express the feelings of my characters. It’s the accumulation of situations that gives the viewer the possibility to intuitively feel what might be going on in the character. Iride Mockert comes from theatre, which is very physical, and we tried to form an arch of physical awakening. So she starts as a very closed person, and then throughout the movie you see a physical transformation of her presence - how she walks, or just stands in a room.

The people she works for, the lady and her son, are presented like caricatures.

We wanted to make this portrait of the alienated middle class a bit humorous. It’s easy to say that Belen is a slave in their house, but we wanted to move away from that and show that they are also troubled people who are completely alienated and sad in their existence.